Gerardo Lara slowly shook his head in disbelief as the guilty verdict was read Friday in Prince William Circuit Court.
Lara, 44, was convicted of first-degree murder nearly two years after the body of his wife, Marissa Lara, was discovered in Washington, D.C.
Before the jury retired to formulate its sentencing recommendation, defense attorney Jon E. Shields made a plea for leniency. Shields reminded the jury that Gerardo Lara was estranged from his wife, which he said could create emotional distress.
“There are many things that go through people’s minds in that condition,” Shields said to the jury. “The act that you have said Gerardo Lara committed is a horrible one, but it is not the measure of this man’s life.”
The Lara Trial
|Judge declares mistrial in Lara case
A few hours later, the jury recommended that Gerardo Lara serve a 40-year prison term. That recommendation will serve as a guideline for the judge at Lara’s Aug. 8 sentencing hearing. Though his sentence could be lessened during that hearing, Lara won’t face more than the recommended 40 years, prosecutors said.
“We’ve worked hard for two years to bring justice to Marissa,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney William Jarvis said.
One of the lynchpins of the prosecution’s case was the testimony of William Taylor and Terry Whitmer, two convicted felons who lived in the same cellblock with Lara after he was initially arrested. Taylor said during his testimony that Lara told him he had killed a girl by stabbing her three times in the head with a screwdriver. Both Taylor and Whitmer provided details of the case they couldn’t have learned from any source other than Lara, prosecutors said.
When the verdict was announced, Lara, his family and his attorneys seemed stunned. The defense had made numerous motions that the case be dismissed or declared a mistrial, citing a lack of evidence that Marissa Lara’s death even took place in Prince William County. The defense’s last motion for a mistrial came just hours before the verdict was announced.
After the jury’s decision was read in the courtroom, the two sons of Gerardo and Marissa Lara buried their heads in the arms of relatives and choked back sobs.
One of the boys, 18-year-old Gerardo Lara Jr., had used his testimony earlier in the week to partially corroborate his father’s version of events: that his mother rode off on May 13, 2003, as a passenger in a black Honda.
Prosecutors said they believe the Honda never existed, and was conjured by Gerardo Lara as an excuse for his estranged wife’s disappearance.
In May 2003, a parking enforcement officer found the body of Marissa Lara wrapped in a sleeping bag in the back of her 2000 Mitsubishi, which had been parked at Gerardo Lara’s house at the time her disappearance was reported by her boyfriend. The car was parked on Q Street in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in Washington, D.C.
Gerardo Lara’s sentencing hearing is set for Aug. 8 at 9 a.m.